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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Trump"

Nadler: We might extend the statute of limitations on some crimes so that Trump can be prosecuted after leaving office

Westlake Legal Group n-2 Nadler: We might extend the statute of limitations on some crimes so that Trump can be prosecuted after leaving office Trump The Blog statute President limitations judiciary Jerrold Nadler impeachment House cohen Campaign Finance

A leftover from last week that I missed at the time. Question for legal eagles: Is Rudy Giuliani right that any such law would be unconstitutional?

Concerned Trump might be able to outlast the threat of criminal charges under current law, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), who in January will take over as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he’s looking at passing legislation that would extend the statute of limitations to encompass crimes committed during Trump’s presidency.

“If he can’t be impeached for improper conduct, if there are crimes, he should be made to be prosecuted,” Nadler said last week on MSNBC…

“Extend statute of limitations would violate the spirit if not the letter of the constitutional protection against ex post facto legislation,” the former New York mayor said [in a text]. “Did any of these anti-Trumpers read the constitution or care about [it?]”

The Ex Post Facto Clause prevents the state from criminalizing behavior retroactively. As a matter of law and basic fairness, if you do X and X becomes a crime a year later, you can’t be charged for having done X beforehand. Anti-Trumpers would counter that that’s not what Nadler’s talking about here. The campaign-finance laws under which Trump might be charged were already on the books when he and Michael Cohen huddled about quietly paying off Stormy Daniels. Trump was on notice that it’d be illegal to make that payment and not report it to the FEC.

All Nadler hopes to do is to close the loophole presented by the current statute of limitations. If it’s true that sitting presidents can’t be indicted and it’s also true that the statute of limitations for the crime in question (five years) is already running, then Trump presumably can avoid prosecution entirely simply by getting reelected. So long as he’s in office through the end of 2021, the statute of limitations will expire with the DOJ never having had an opportunity to charge him. Nadler’s solution is simple: “Toll” (i.e. pause) the statute while the president is in office. Amend the law so that the statutes of limitation for crimes a president is accused of don’t begin to run until he’s left the job.

Pro-Trumpers will follow Rudy, though, and argue that extending the statute of limitations now would amount to an ex post facto law. And there’s a semi-recent Supreme Court precedent on the books they can cite to support their case: Stogner v. California, from 2003. In that case, California had passed a law allowing old cases of child molestation to be tried in certain circumstances even if the statute of limitations had already run. In other words, the state was “reviving” previously time-barred prosecutions. The Court held, 5-4, that that was unconstitutional. The point of the Ex Post Facto Clause, said the majority, is to prevent the state from imposing punishments in cases where the defendant has already been freed by law from criminal liability. “Reviving” prosecutions violates that principle. Worth noting: It was the Court’s four liberals plus Sandra Day O’Connor who made the majority. The conservatives — Rehnquist, Scalia, Thomas, and, er, Anthony Kennedy — all dissented. They would have let the prosecutions go forward.

The question, then: Although it’s unconstitutional to “revive” an otherwise time-barred prosecution, is it unconstitutional to extend the time for a prosecution that isn’t yet barred by the statute of limitations? Trump can lawfully be charged at any point until late 2021, remember, assuming he’s out of office. He’s not free from criminal liability by law yet. On the other hand, if the point of the Ex Post Facto Clause is to ensure that the defendant has some opportunity to grasp the legal consequences of his actions *before* he undertakes to commit a crime, extending the statute of limitations after the crime’s been committed means that he didn’t have a full opportunity to grasp it. He was given bad information. He was supposed to be free from criminal liability by law at a certain point and now the state’s gone and changed the rules in mid-stream. Constitutional or not?

The secret answer: It … doesn’t matter because Nadler’s bill will never become law. The Republican Senate will kill it on sight. The point of floating this is simply to turn the screws on McConnell’s caucus, understanding the political predicament they may soon find themselves in. Probably 95 percent of the public would agree with Nadler in the abstract when he says “no one should be above the law.” Senate Republicans will counter that with fancy shmancy talking points about ex post facto laws and Supreme Court precedents, yadda yadda, but they’ll all pale by comparison to Nadler’s straightforward point. No one should be above the law. Republicans can either “prove” that they agree with him by passing his bill to extend Trump’s criminal liability until he’s out of office or they can stand for effectively granting the president monarchical powers by letting his office shield him from prosecution until the DOJ is powerless to charge him. That’s a good electoral pitch for Dems, whether it’s fair or constitutional.

Anyway. The long and short of it is that the 2020 campaign may be consumed to a disproportionate degree with the question of whether the president should be returned to the highest office in the world so that he can continue to enjoy absolute immunity from American criminal law. Even by the standards of Trump-era politics, that’s bananas.

The post Nadler: We might extend the statute of limitations on some crimes so that Trump can be prosecuted after leaving office appeared first on Hot Air.

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Federal judge: Stormy Daniels owes Trump $293,000 in attorney’s fees

Westlake Legal Group sd Federal judge: Stormy Daniels owes Trump $293,000 in attorney’s fees Trump The Blog Stormy Daniels slapp otero judge harder fees Defamation avenatti attorney

She and Avenatti sued Trump for allegedly defaming her in a tweet, you may remember. They lost — and not only did they lose, the court found that the suit violated Texas’s anti-SLAPP statute, which punishes a litigant for filing a frivolous complaint aimed at discouraging criticism by the defendant. That punishment: Attorney’s fees. Trump and his lawyer, Charles Harder, asked for $340,000 from Daniels to compensate Harder for his work on the case, but the court was free to conclude that that amount is excessive and should be scaled waaaaaay back.

Judge James Otero issued his ruling this afternoon. Harder’s getting nearly three-quarters of his fees.

A California judge has ordered Stormy Daniels pay $293,052.33 in attorney’s fees, costs and sanctions to the lawyers representing President Donald Trump in the defamation suit Daniels and her attorney Michael Avenatti brought against Trump earlier this year.

Trump’s attorney, Charles Harder, had asked for a total of nearly $780,000 from the adult films actress — $389,000 in attorney fees and another $389,000 in sanctions in a hearing last week…

“The court’s order, along with the court’s prior order dismissing Stormy Daniels’ defamation case against the President, together constitute a total victory for the President, and a total defeat for Stormy Daniels in this case,” Harder said.

Imagine that your dubious lawyer talked you into filing a dubious lawsuit against the president of the United States with the very real prospect of an outcome in which you would end up owing him money. Lots and lots of money. You’d be mad, huh?

Now imagine that that same dubious lawyer never talked you into filing the dubious suit at all — that, rather, he just went ahead and filed it himself in your name, against your wishes, knowing that you’d be stuck with the bill if it went bad, not him.

Because that’s what Stormy claims happened here, you know.

America’s greatest lawyer was stoic in the aftermath of today’s defeat, assured that the flow of money here will soon reverse and all wrongs will be righted:

He tweeted this too, then thought better of it and deleted it. Ken “Popehat” White preserved it for posterity, calling it “really really foolish on lots of levels. LOTS. OF. LEVELS.”

Westlake Legal Group m-2 Federal judge: Stormy Daniels owes Trump $293,000 in attorney’s fees Trump The Blog Stormy Daniels slapp otero judge harder fees Defamation avenatti attorney

Alex Griswold summarizes: “It’s okay that Avenatti made an unforced error that cost his client $300,000, because she’ll get more money in a different case, maybe.”

Also, is Avenatti right that Otero’s ruling won’t hold up on appeal? White isn’t so sure:

Avenatti’s confidence about winning on appeal is “badly misplaced,” he went on to say — before adding this:

This could get worse for Stormy if the litigation continues. And if it does get worse, what happens if the gajillion-dollar judgment in the NDA case that Avenatti’s expecting doesn’t materialize? It’s conceivable that she’ll end up owing Trump more money than vice versa once the legal dust settles, and the more she pursues the defamation matter, the more likely that becomes. Weird to think that one quickie in Tahoe 12 years ago might end up with the president going to prison and his paramour going broke. Exit question: Realistically there’s no way the Stormy saga ends except with her suing Avenatti, is there?

The post Federal judge: Stormy Daniels owes Trump $293,000 in attorney’s fees appeared first on Hot Air.

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Pelosi rips Trump at meeting with House Dems: You can’t associate him with manhood

Westlake Legal Group p-4 Pelosi rips Trump at meeting with House Dems: You can’t associate him with manhood wall Trump The Blog Shutdown schumer pelosi manhood immigration funding cuck border

This is the most personally demeaning thing one could say about a guy who’s obsessed with his alpha-male status so consider this your official notice that there will be no Deals! between the president and Congress over the next two years.

Although it must be noted: The new female Speaker of the House basically calling Trump a cuck after their first meeting is a fine teaser for the dramatic upcoming third season of this garbage reality show we now live in.

“I was trying to be the mom,” she added [of her meeting with Trump and Chuck Schumer], but “it goes to show you: you get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.”…

“It’s like a manhood thing with him — as if manhood can be associated with him,” she deadpanned. “This wall thing.”…

“The press is all there! Chuck is really shouting out. I was trying to be the mom. I can’t explain it to you. It was so wild,” she said, later adding: “But the fact is we did get him to say, to fully own that the shutdown was his. That was an accomplishment.”…

The entire thing baffled Pelosi. It’s a “cultural phenomenon,” Pelosi told her colleagues, that “the fate of our country [is] in the hands of this person.”

Various other outlets, from WaPo to CNN to the Hill, also have sources relaying the “manhood” comment. Interesting how eager Democrats are to have that out there. Partly, I’d guess, it’s due to the pure enjoyment of watching President Alpha be rhetorically emasculated, knowing how it’ll sting him. Partly it’s Pelosi and her caucus wanting to signal to Democratic voters how “tough” and even nasty she’s willing to be in brawling with Trump as the once and future leader of the House. E.g., another leaked quote: “He said at the end of the meeting, he said, ‘We can go two routes with this meeting: with a knife or a candy.’ I said, ‘Exactly.’”

But mostly, I think, it’s to bait Trump into digging in on the shutdown, which Dems think will be a winner for them politically. (Notice in the excerpt what Pelosi considers her “accomplishment” today to have been.) They’re probably right about that, too — not because the polling favors them, necessarily, but because congressional Republicans won’t want a protracted shutdown which they know going in will be blamed on the president. This is “Trump vs. Democrats” right now but soon enough it’ll be a “Trump vs. RINOs” thing. Insulting him personally is Pelosi’s way of making it harder for him to cave, at least early on, thus ensuring that intra-GOP squabble later.

I’m looking forward to the exchange of hot takes after this between two of the most annoying segments of the pundit class, the group that thinks Pelosi is an indispensable political genius and the group that’s forever moaning when more respectable politicians “sink to Trump’s level” with personal insults. Did Nancy screw up by further “lowering the discourse” here? Or is it actually a master strategic stroke? Stay tuned.

The post Pelosi rips Trump at meeting with House Dems: You can’t associate him with manhood appeared first on Hot Air.

Westlake Legal Group p-4-300x153 Pelosi rips Trump at meeting with House Dems: You can’t associate him with manhood wall Trump The Blog Shutdown schumer pelosi manhood immigration funding cuck border   Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Graham calls on Trump to “dig in” over border funding: It’s time to stare down this “liberal arrogance”

Westlake Legal Group lg Graham calls on Trump to “dig in” over border funding: It’s time to stare down this “liberal arrogance” wall Trump The Blog Shutdown schumer pelosi Lindsey Graham funding democrats daca border

There are liberals on social media as I write this speculating that this quote is evidence that … Graham has been compromised by the Russians and is now serving the same Kremlin masters that the president supposedly is. That theory is nonsense, of course.

But.

This is not the Grahamnesty I thought I knew. Ever since he went full beastmode at the Kavanaugh hearing he’s been a different man. Did McCain’s passing free him to be more of a populist? Is this some sort of strategic thing, backing Trump on high-profile standoffs with Democrats in hopes that POTUS will acquiesce on lower-profile matters like punishing the Saudis for the Khashoggi killing?

I feel like if this keeps up for much longer I’m going to start having misgivings about calling him “Grahamnesty.”

He kept it up on Twitter:

DACA? Is either side talking seriously about a deal involving DREAMers? Seems kind of random for Graham to mention that — almost as if Benjy Sarlin is right:

Perhaps we’ll stick with the “Grahamnesty” sobriquet a bit longer.

Can’t fault Graham for looking ahead to some sort of face-saving compromise after the two parties deadlock and the government shuts down, though. One way out of that would be to agree on a middle-ground number for funding the wall. Trump wants $5 billion, Democrats have offered $1.6 billion for general “border security.” Maybe we end up with $3 billion or thereabouts for the wall — but Democratic voters won’t like that, even though it’ll mean Trump was forced to come down off his initial number. They just won the House despite immigration becoming a prominent issue in the final weeks due to the caravan, and the wall is Trump’s baby. They don’t want to give in on this and don’t think they should have to, especially if he’s playing shutdown hardball to achieve it. If they end up giving him anything for the wall Pelosi and Schumer will have to get something meaningful in return. Graham’s already laying the groundwork for it: DREAM amnesty for wall funding.

As for the politics, it was … unorthodox, shall we say, for Trump to say on camera at this afternoon’s meeting with Chuck and Nancy that he’d take the blame for shutting down the government over wall funding. Particularly with polls like this floating around:

Westlake Legal Group n-1 Graham calls on Trump to “dig in” over border funding: It’s time to stare down this “liberal arrogance” wall Trump The Blog Shutdown schumer pelosi Lindsey Graham funding democrats daca border

Ed was right earlier, though, when he said that Trump will own the shutdown no matter what. He’s the one driving the standoff by demanding wall funding; it’d be silly for him to try to frame it differently. And to be honest, there’s no better moment for a shutdown to signal seriousness of purpose than right now. The GOP’s as far away from the next election as it can be and the opposing party is about to take over a house of Congress. An early test of wills will show Democrats up front that Trump intends to make border security a top issue over the next two years and that he won’t take no for an answer — if in fact he wins that test of wills.

Will he, though?

The core virtue of Trump’s presidency to nationalists like Tucker Carlson is how he’s managed to shift the focus of the national conversation to nationalist priorities. The wall is Exhibit A on that point, and a shutdown to force wall funding would be a dramatic demonstration of how intent Trump is on doing it. If he ends up backing off or caving, it’ll leave the Tuckers of the world wondering whether there’s really any core virtue there after all. (Some, like Ann Coulter, are already wondering.) That’s the real political risk here to the president — not that swing voters will remember the shutdown when they go to the polls in 2020 but that populists will remember that it failed to produce any meaningful border improvements, if in fact it fails to do so. He’d better be careful.

The post Graham calls on Trump to “dig in” over border funding: It’s time to stare down this “liberal arrogance” appeared first on Hot Air.

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Why not Newt for chief of staff?

Westlake Legal Group g-7 Why not Newt for chief of staff? white house Trump The Blog pelosi Nick Ayers Newt Gingrich mcconnell John Kelly chief of staff

Columnist Damon Linker floated this idea half-heartedly on Twitter last night but a quick check of Google News reveals that no one is pushing it seriously. Why not? Seems like a decent match!

I’m in a list-making mood today. The case for Newt:

1. His career’s over. No one with any serious prospects for professional advancement would take this thankless garbage job, which involves long hours, being berated constantly by a former game-show host, having your advice routinely ignored, and maybe being indicted eventually for something the boss did. Nick Ayers turned it down because he’s 36 and wants to run for office in Georgia. Newt’s 75, has already run for office in Georgia, and hasn’t held public office in 20 years. Even if he ends up in prison as a co-conspirator in some Trump scheme, how long would he serve, realistically?

2. He knows Trump. “The president really wanted someone he knows. He didn’t want to gamble,” said a source to Vanity Fair of Trump’s interest in Ayers. Trump tried having an establishment guy and then a military man as chief of staff. What he wants now is a crony, the more pugnacious the better to do battle with Mueller as Russiagate moves to its next phase. Giuliani’s in the same mold and is already part of the team; no doubt Chris Christie would already be there too if not for the fact that he sent Jared Kushner’s father to prison. Trump would be comfortable with Newt. And since it doesn’t really matter who his chief of staff is, as he’s going to run his office the way he likes, why not hire someone with whom he’s comfortable?

3. He knows impeachment. POTUS is thinking about what the new Democratic majority in the House might have in store for him. If you’re going to staff up, might as well do it with someone who’s been down this road:

If he wants an impeachment consigliere, why choose Bossie over the guy who presided as Speaker during Clinton’s impeachment? In fact, Gingrich is already offering Trump advice on impeachment via the printed page:

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich said Clinton’s experience in 1998, when the embattled president questioned the special prosecutor and warned of GOP overreach, is instructive for Trump and Republicans, showing them how to be both combative and confident amid chaos.

“You can’t have that many smart lawyers, with the full power of the government, and not have something bad come out,” Gingrich said of the special counsel’s team. “Mueller has to find something, like Trump jaywalked 11 times. The media will go crazy for three days, screaming, ‘Oh, my God! Oh, my God!’ ”

But, Gingrich said, “This isn’t a crisis moment for Trump or the party. Remember, we thought we had Clinton on the ropes, but Clinton kept smiling and his popularity went up.”

4. He knows Democrats. Gingrich is a former Speaker, knows Pelosi personally, and has relationships with all sorts of congressional members and staffers from his decades of being in and around Washington. He also knows firsthand how to get legislation passed, particularly when it requires compromising with Democrats. If Trump decides that he wants to try to make a few deals with Pelosi and Schumer, Gingrich would be better informed than most about how to approach that.

5. He knows scorched-earth politics. If, on the other hand, Trump has already concluded that the political well is poisoned and there are no deals to be had, well, Gingrich can run that operation too. It’s sort of his brand, frankly. “Trump has remarked on several occasions that his West Wing needs aides who are more politically adept,” claimed CNN in a report yesterday. A guy who midwifed the first Republican House majority in 40 years probably meets the threshold for “politically adept.”

6. He knows what it’s like to be yelled at by Trump. Remember?

Undercutting Trump publicly and then being chewed out by him is basically part of the job description here after John Kelly. Newt’s got that box checked too!

Now you’re going to say “Newt’s old news, he’s out of touch,” etc etc. Let me respond to that with a quote: “A senior White House official told me, in a sign of the depth of the current difficulties, that even former chief of staff Reince Priebus has been brought up as a possible replacement for Kelly.” You get what I’m saying here? No one wants this job. If you can find a candidate who’s even 20 percent qualified, leap at the chance. Newt is 20 percent qualified. Exit question: Exactly how much dirt on the Trump White House is John Kelly prepared to share, whether via leaks or a tell-all book, once he leaves? I’ll leave you with this to chew on.

Mr. Kelly, meanwhile, is said to be furious with Ms. Trump and Mr. Kushner. One senior administration official said that Mr. Kelly was known to have kept written notes about Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump and the things that they had done or requested, which he conspicuously left on his desk in view of his staff.

The post Why not Newt for chief of staff? appeared first on Hot Air.

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Orrin Hatch: I don’t care if federal prosecutors think Trump committed a crime

Westlake Legal Group h-2 Orrin Hatch: I don’t care if federal prosecutors think Trump committed a crime Trump The Blog sdny russiagate prosecutors Orrin Hatch Federal cohen

Lotta good lines here but my favorite is “You can make anything a crime under the current laws if you want to.” It’s as if POTUS could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose a single vote.

I’m surprised there are any congressional Republicans who are already at the “don’t care” stage of presidential apologetics. Read this CNN piece quoting various GOP senators and you’ll find there are many milder stages, all of which seem more appropriate at a moment when Trump hasn’t yet been formally accused of breaking the law. (Although the Cohen filing on Friday got close.)

Stage one: It’s too early to say. (John Thune, Susan Collins.) Trump might be in trouble but until a prosecutor somewhere claims he’s committed a crime there’s nothing to talk about.

Stage two: The campaign-finance case against him is based on testimony from known liar and moron Michael Cohen. (Chuck Grassley, John Kennedy.) It’s true that Cohen is a liar and a moron but probably *not* true that the feds suspect Trump based purely on what Cohen has told them. You don’t accuse a sitting president of the United States of having directed the commission of a federal crime based on nothing but a convict’s say-so. They’ve got more.

Stage three: When Obama’s campaign ran into campaign-finance trouble, it was treated as a civil matter. Double standard! (Trump himself made this argument today.) Right, but John Edwards’s hush-money payments were treated as a criminal matter. That’s the direct precedent here, an allegedly knowing attempt to circumvent federal reporting rules to cover up a scandal that might damage a candidate’s campaign. And the facts in Trump’s case are worse than the facts were in Edwards’s case, as the NYT described today. There was a semi-plausible argument based on the timing of payments in Edwards’s case that they were made to spare his family from embarrassment, not to influence the election. The payoff to Stormy Daniels a few weeks before Election Day 2016 is much harder to explain away as unrelated to the election. And the evidence of improper motive in Edwards’s case was thin because there were no witnesses to corroborate it. There is a witness, however dubious he may be, in Trump’s case. And there may be hard evidence too.

Stage four: This happened before he was president, it’s not something he did while in office. (Orrin Hatch, Alan Simpson.) This is the stage where the arguments start to shift from “he committed no crime” to “even if he committed a crime…” It’s true that Trump hadn’t been sworn in yet, or even elected, when the Stormy payment was made but (a) the whole point of the charges against Cohen is that he paid off Daniels to try to influence the election without reporting it. The deed was done with Trump’s prospective presidency in mind. It’s not like this was some rando business deal from before he entered politics. And (b) even if it was an old crime, so what? No president from either party is supposed to get a de facto pardon on criminal activity by dint of having won an election. There’s an argument that a sitting president should not, and cannot, be charged with a crime while in office. There’s no argument that he shouldn’t ever be charged, period. And remember: The Cohen filing suggested without naming names that certain people had encouraged him to lie to Congress under oath. If Trump is one of those people then that did happen during his presidency. And that’s a bigger deal than a mistress payoff.

Stage five: This is a Democratic-fueled partisan witch hunt. (Orrin Hatch, John Kennedy.) This is the stage where defenders basically admit that he probably committed a crime and focus on the unfairness of the process instead. Campaign-finance offenses are a long way away from Russia collusion, noted Kennedy to CNN. “The Democrats will do anything to hurt this President,” added Hatch. But although some evidence in the Cohen prosecution was gathered by Mueller, the case itself has been pursued by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan. It might have been pursued anyway even without Mueller’s involvement given the endless drum-beating in the media by Daniels and Michael Avenatti. The “witch hunt” argument is harder against career prosecutors in a local DOJ outfit than it is against Mueller.

Stage six: I don’t care. (Orrin Hatch.) This is the fingers-in-the-ear end stage, after prosecutors have produced evidence against Trump and impeachment is suddenly on the table. If they’ve got the goods, the defense of last resort is simply to say, “Doesn’t matter. So long as the economy’s good he can break whichever laws he likes.” We’re still a long way away from this stage. Why’s Hatch leaping to it? Presumably it’s because he’ll be an ex-senator in a few weeks and is in DGAF mode. Although that raises a question: If he’s no longer beholden to Trump or to voters, why say this? He can’t really mean to imply that it’s okay for the president to commit crimes if you like his policies.

A source “close to the White House” told CNN elsewhere that Trump’s White House aides think the Cohen matter, not Russiagate, is the only one that might “stick,” which seems counterintuitive but makes sense. If Mueller doesn’t find evidence of an underlying Russia-related crime by Trump, it’d be hard to convince the Senate to remove him for obstruction of justice. What justice would have been “obstructed” in the end if Mueller is able to complete his investigation, after all? (There *is* potential witness tampering, I suppose.) I think it’d be hard to convince them to remove him for lying about hush money to a mistress too, even if there’s smoking-gun proof. The crime is so tawdry, and Daniels’s silence seemingly so negligible in affecting the outcome of the election that the Senate won’t pull the trigger. But if it turns out that Trump encouraged Cohen to lie under oath? That’s a big deal. I don’t know how the feds would prove that to skeptics’ satisfaction — it’ll take more than Cohen’s testimony — but that’s the most dangerous threat to Trump right now.

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Time Person of the Year shortlist: Trump, Meghan Markle, “Black Panther” director, Parkland kids

Westlake Legal Group h-1 Time Person of the Year shortlist: Trump, Meghan Markle, “Black Panther” director, Parkland kids Trump Time The Blog putin person of the year mueller meghan markle david hogg coogler christine blasey ford

To cleanse the palate, how can a year in which major news seemed to break every 10 minutes for 11 months produce a list of newsmakers this thin?

Realistically, there are four contenders. Let’s dispense with the also-rans.

Coogler. “Black Panther” was a monster success and the cover story about black directors and black casts producing smash hits with wide audience appeal (see also “Get Out”) writes itself. But POY never goes to entertainers. Too many real-news alternatives.

Ford. Would have been a strong-ish contender if not for the fact that #MeToo (a.k.a. “the Silence Breakers”) was POY last year.

Khashoggi. What percentage of the public knows who he is? Has anything meaningful changed (yet) in U.S.-Saudi or Anyone-Saudi relations because of his murder? Not gonna sell many issues with Khashoggi on the cover either, which is a consideration.

March for Our Lives. They’re sympathetic and championed a cause near and dear to the media’s hearts, and thus are probably the most likely also-ran to pull an upset and win. At the end of the day, though, what’s changed in U.S. gun laws? Was gun control even a factor in the Democrats’ midterm wave in the House? I think the political bias in choosing them would be a bit too obvious for Time’s comfort. Plus, one of the Parkland student leaders has already said he’d decline the award if it’s given to them. (How do you “decline” being named POY?) Time doesn’t want that headache.

Moon. The same problem as Khashoggi, but worse. Who’ll buy the issue? And why would Time risk making him POY when U.S/South Korean diplomacy towards the North could collapse at any moment?

Markle. For cripes sake. She’s only on the list because Time wanted some cheap buzz among royal-watchers and gossip-rag-readers. They’d be a laughingstock if they chose her. They’d sell a billion copies of the issue, though.

The real contenders:

Putin: He won it in 2007 and Time rarely awards POY to foreign leaders twice. (Although it has happened.) But he’s had a big year, as Time’s blurb notes — reelected president, the Skripal poisoning, new tussling with Ukraine, and of course Russiagate. No foreign leader haunts the American imagination like he does. Why Putin instead of Xi Jinping, though? Xi’s country is the ascendant power and the one fighting a trade war with the U.S., and he won president-for-life power in March. Very weird that he’s not a shortlister.

Separated families. Obviously a political choice but defensible insofar as immigration is Trump’s bread-and-butter and the separated-family issue is a rare one in which public outcry was so great that he was forced to back down. I think it’s the least likely of the real contenders to win but not a super longshot.

Trump. No president has dominated the daily news cycle like he has. He makes news in ways good, bad, and embarrassing seemingly seven or eight times daily. The only wrinkle is that he won the award in 2016 and Time typically waits until a president wins reelection before honoring him again.

Mueller. The frontrunner. The media aches for reasons to extol him, he’s been a dominant news presence shadowing Trump all year, and his recent spate of legal activity has piqued public interest at the right moment. But would Time honor Mueller before he’s showed what he has on Trump? The possibility remains, however remote, that he won’t accuse the president of having committed any crimes. Imagine Time honoring Mueller now and then the results of the investigation disappointing Trump’s critics. On the other hand, if Mueller produces his report early next year, there’s a chance he might be old news by the time next year’s POY is named. Might be now or never for Time.

Trump deserves it. American politics is now just a snowglobe that he holds in his hand, shaking it whenever the urge strikes. But if Time gives it to him again, they’ll almost certainly have to make him a three-time winner if he wins reelection in 2020. And the only three-time winner in the magazine’s history is FDR. They’re not going to give Trump that distinction. It’ll have to be Mueller.

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Rubio: If Trump pardons Manafort, we might need a national debate about amending the pardon power

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A leftover from yesterday. The Q&A here is about Manafort but obviously the argument applies to everyone in the president’s personal orbit, starting with his children. If you’re inclined to scold Rubio by noting that Trump hasn’t pardoned Manafort or Roger Stone or anyone else related to Russiagate yet, that’s fine but (a) he’s spoken openly about the possibility; (b) he’s gone so far as to contrast Stone’s behavior with Michael Cohen’s, a hint to other potential witnesses against him that they might be rewarded if they refuse to cooperate; and (c) there’s simply no way Trump is going to sit by and let Don Jr go to prison, if it comes to that. I think the odds of him pardoning Manafort are better than 50/50 but the odds of him pardoning his son if and when he’s indicted approach 100/0. All of which is to say, one way or another, we almost certainly will eventually be debating whether a president should have the power to pardon his own cronies even if we’re not debating it just yet.

Also, it should go without saying that no amendment would pass in time to block Trump from pardoning whoever he wants. The amendment process takes years. What Rubio means here is that the example of Trump pardoning cronies would inspire so much public disgust that Americans might resolve to pass something that would prevent future presidents from doing the same thing. The Framers calculated that no specific textual limits on the power were needed, as either shame or fear of a backlash at the polls would discourage a president from abusing pardons. But what if a particular president wasn’t prone to shame, and had convinced himself that he was the subject of a “witch hunt”? And what if partisanship in America had deteriorated to the point where most of his party would back him up on literally anything he wanted to do, as he himself once famously acknowledged?

If Trump pardons his inner circle and the power isn’t reformed afterward, a future president is destined to be influenced by that precedent. Granted, he won’t be eager to associate himself with Trump’s behavior, but the fact remains that the Overton window will have been moved (the whole point of Trump’s presidency!) and a politician who’s in trouble and under pressure will be tempted to avail himself of it. In an extreme case, a president might try to pardon himself. Either way, to an unscrupulous wielder the power becomes a de facto license to break the law with impunity. To prevent that, the country would have to rewrite the pardon power.

Might not be easy, though. Would an amendment place procedural or substantive limits on the power? Substantive limits would involve specifying whom the president can’t pardon — family members, say, plus anyone who worked for him in a political or private context. But then you’d have to define how close those relationships need to be to trigger exemption (or else trust the courts to do it for you). What if someone didn’t work directly for the president but merely at the same organization? What if they were very low-ranking and didn’t have some close personal or working relationship with him? What about political donors? Surely they’d be blocked from being pardoned. But how much money would they need to have donated to trigger that block? Does any amount do it or only Sheldon-Adelson-type money? What if the donor has contributed only to a Super PAC that supports the president rather than the president’s campaign?

The way out here might be to ignore the substantive limits and stick with procedural ones instead. Short and sweet: All future pardons are subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. But that’s not foolproof either. If the whole problem is that rank-and-file partisans are so blindly loyal to their leaders that they’d otherwise be willing to let the president pardon any crony he likes, even himself, then requiring the approval of a Senate majority isn’t demanding much if that majority comes from his own party. How confident are you that the new GOP Senate majority next year would torpedo a pardon for Don Jr, knowing how the GOP base would be clamoring for it to happen? By the same token, imagine if the Senate majority were composed of members of the opposite party. In that case, pardons for deserving recipients might conceivably be blocked just because the recipient is a member of the other team.

I don’t think there’ll be any momentum to amend the pardon power unless Trump does something really nutty with it, like pardoning himself or pardoning the entire cast of characters from Russiagate rather than just Don Jr, say. Because the process of ratification takes so long, it would probably run out of steam as people’s memories of Trump faded. Republicans might oppose it on principle, because they believe in strong executive power, or out of expedience, because supporting an amendment would be tantamount to admitting that Trump had abused the power. Anyway, this debate is probably coming next year.

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Comey: We must “use every breath we have” to oust Trump in 2020

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Reading this, I thought, “Would it be asking too much to ask this guy to be a little less emo in his Trump criticism?”

But it would be asking too much. Think of who we’re talking about here.

The final “closing argument” rally for the Democratic nominee before Election Day 2020 is gonna end with Comey and Hillary putting aside their differences in the name of victory and embracing onstage.

“All of us should use every breath we have to make sure the lies stop on January 20, 2021,” Comey told an audience at the 92nd Street Y on New York City’s Upper East Side. He all but begged Democrats to set aside their ideological differences and nominate the person best suited to defeating Trump in an election.

“I understand the Democrats have important debates now over who their candidate should be,” Comey told MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace, “but they have to win. They have to win.”…

Still, Comey said he hoped that Trump would be swept out of office without being impeached. Framing the rise of Trumpism as a political ill the country needed to exorcise at the ballot, he expressed a hope that Americans would “in a landslide rid ourselves of this attack on our values.”

He’s made that argument before, that it’s important to cleanse America’s soul or whatever by having voters remove Trump rather than asking Congress to do it. If Congress does it, he went on to say elsewhere in this interview, then a third of the country will believe that a de facto coup had removed the president from office. But a third of the country will believe that if he loses the 2020 election too. Granted, the bigger the landslide the harder it’ll be to float a conspiracy theory to explain Trump’s loss, but Trump will try to explain any loss in terms of a conspiracy. He would never legitimize an opponent who’s humiliated him by allowing that his defeat had been fair and square. If he loses by 10 million votes, he’ll simply claim that 10 million illegals were the difference. Or that the ballot box was stuffed. Or that China intervened and manipulated the vote totals via hacking. Or (a bigger-picture argument) that the deep-state witch hunt had engineered his defeat by turning people against him. There’ll be no “honorable” defeat. But then, there rarely are honorable defeats in presidential elections anymore, by either side. God only knows what sort of conspiracy Democrats will entertain to explain a Trump reelection victory. Russian vote-rigging, in all likelihood.

And of course, it’s unlikely that Trump would lose in a landslide. It’s been nearly 40 years since a sitting president lost a majority of the popular vote. If Trump loses, he’s apt to lose in a close-ish election, which will make conspiracy theories about electoral shenanigans even easier. The irony of Comey insisting that Trump be removed by voters rather than Congress, though, is that that’s exactly the argument Republicans will make next year if (or, rather, when) Democrats move to impeach him. “Why should we usurp the will of the voters when the president will be on the ballot soon?” Senate Republicans will say. “We let them decide which party should fill the Scalia vacancy on the Court, we’ll let them decide what should become of Trump.” There’s nothing our modern Congress enjoys more than punting its responsibility to make decisions to other political actors. Punting the question of whether to remove Trump to 2020 voters will prove especially appealing since it’s the only way Senate GOPers can avoid alienating some segment of the electorate. If they go to bat for Trump, swing voters might be mad; if they turn on Trump, Trumpers will be incensed. They have to punt. Comey’s inadvertently offering them a way to do so.

He was also asked during this interview whether Trump is now an unindicted co-conspirator in Michael Cohen’s campaign-finance crimes. Maybe not formally, said Comey, but yes, on the merits he pretty clearly is. Which is true. Various lawyers from across the political spectrum made the point this weekend that it’d be strange for Cohen to be indicted for a crime but not the man who allegedly directed him to commit it. (And one who may, notes David French, have encouraged Cohen to lie under oath to Congress.) The reason Trump hasn’t been indicted already, in all likelihood, is not because they don’t have the goods on him but because it’s DOJ policy that a sitting president can’t be indicted. And what happens once Trump is no longer a sitting president? Gabe Malor looks ahead:

This doesn’t mean that Trump is safe; given the five-year statute of limitations on campaign finance crimes, it means only that Trump is safe for now

Keep in mind that federal prosecutors have Cohen’s recordings of conversations with Trump, and have granted immunity to the AMI executives who handled the McDougal payment. It is very likely that the SDNY’s prosecutors know more about this than has been revealed so far. Their candidness about Trump’s misconduct in the sentencing memo suggests they are relying on more than just Cohen’s say-so.

Surreally, a key Republican pitch to the base in the next election may be that they need to turn out and reelect the president so that he doesn’t go to prison. As Gabe notes, given the statute of limitations, he could be indicted in 2021 but not in 2025. To some degree the race may become a referendum on how badly each side does or doesn’t want to see Trump locked up. The chatterati has spent the past two years marveling at how completely the GOP has become the “party of Trump” but nothing would prove that quite as well as Trump’s personal freedom becoming an animating election issue for the right, whether or not there’s probable cause to believe that he committed federal crimes.

And the more prominent that issue becomes, paradoxically the less likely Democrats might be to impeach. Impeachment is risky politically under any circumstances but some Dems may calculate that an impeachment effort that’s likely to fail in the Senate may actually do harm to the DOJ’s case against Trump. If the Senate votes to acquit him, Trump defenders will point to that and say that he’s already had a “trial” and been found not guilty. That’s not true, but it’ll help make the case after he’s out of office that the DOJ is being vindictive by continuing to pursue him despite the Senate’s verdict. On the other hand, given the sky-high odds that this guy will try to pardon himself if it comes to that and the somewhat lesser (but nonzero) odds that the pardon will stick, Dems may figure that removal from office is the only penalty he’s ever likely to face, however unlikely the Senate is to actually follow through. Which means they have to try it. Fun times ahead!

Update: Readers are reminding me that Bush lost a majority of the popular vote in 1992. True, my mistake. I overlooked that race because Clinton famously didn’t win a majority; the vote split three ways with Ross Perot. I suppose we could have a situation like that again in 2020, although I think that’s unlikely in a highly polarized age. So, to amend my point above, it’s been nearly 40 years since a challenger won a majority of the popular vote from a sitting president.

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Rex Tillerson: Trump was undisciplined, didn’t like to read, and wanted to do things in unlawful ways

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That doesn’t sound like him.

To be clear, the bit about doing things in unlawful ways refers not to criminal schemes but to Trump sometimes not understanding what existing law did and didn’t allow him to do in setting policy unilaterally as president. That may not be a “Trump problem” per se, more of a “guy who’s never held office and didn’t go to law school and thus doesn’t know the rules” problem. (Although Trump’s interest in civics is probably below replacement level even among that group.) Plus, electing a guy who did go to a very good law school and does, in theory, know the rules is no guarantee of better results in every circumstance. Look no further than Barack Obama and DACA.

“It was challenging for me coming from the disciplined, highly process-oriented ExxonMobil Corporation to go to work for a man who is pretty undisciplined, doesn’t — doesn’t like to read, doesn’t read briefing reports, doesn’t — doesn’t like to get into the details of a lot of things but rather just kind of says, look, this is what I believe and you can try to convince me otherwise, but most of the time you’re not going to do that.”…

“When the president would say, ‘Here’s what I want to do, and here’s how I want to do it,’ and I’d have to say to him, ‘Well, Mr. President, I understand what you want to do but you can’t do it that way. It violates the law, it violates the treaty, you know,’” Tillerson explained.

“I didn’t know how to conduct my affairs with him any other way than in a very straightforward fashion. And I think he grew tired of me being the guy every day that told him, ‘You can’t do that, and let’s talk about what we can do.’”

As others have noted, this sounds like a more elaborate, refined version of a comment Tillerson is alleged to have made about Trump while he was still as State. Trump is taking the criticism in stride, as he usually does:

It’s worth watching the clip below despite having read the excerpt, as there’s a line in the video that wasn’t included in the written account. John Dickerson picks up on it too. At one point Tillerson notes that he and Trump don’t share some of the same “values.” What’s that mean? Managerial values, like … reading briefing books? Diplomatic values, like not speaking admiringly of tyrants? Or basic civic values, like “The treaty says we can’t do that”?

An interesting point is also made about Tillerson, a corporate exec, viewing his diplomatic job in terms of having a fiduciary duty to the public. Most politicians (some politicians?) approach their jobs that way, I’d guess: Either you produce results for your “shareholders” or you’re apt to get fired. By some key measures, even according to his admirers, Trump hasn’t produced results. But it’s unimaginable that supporters would “fire” him. This isn’t corporate warfare, it’s cultural warfare. You don’t replace the general who’s leading the culture war even if he hasn’t won as many battles as you’d hoped. Maybe that’s what Tillerson meant by different “values.”

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